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New Plan Audit Standards Shift Burdens to Plan Fiduciaries

In an effort to address shortcomings in auditing procedures and reporting raised by the DOL, in July 2019, the Auditing Standards Board of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants issued a revised Statement on Auditing Standards No. 136 entitled, “Forming an Opinion and Reporting on Financial Statements of Employee Benefit Plans Subject to ERISA” (“SAS 136”). SAS 136 applies to plan financial statement periods ending on or after December 15, 2021. The updated audit standards imposed by SAS 136 add new audit procedures and significantly shift the burden for producing many plan-related documents to the plan sponsor. The new requirements will make it essential for plan sponsors to be able to produce quality, error-free records that demonstrate compliance in areas like compensation, deferrals, distributions, and vendors’ fees. Even before these new standards went into effect, it was often difficult for plan sponsors to produce such documentation, particularly when it… Continue Reading

Elective Deferral Election Records – Plan Sponsors Proceed With Caution

In a time when most employees make their 401(k) plan elective deferral elections electronically, plan sponsors often do not think twice about maintaining records of employee deferral elections, since they expect their third party administrators (“TPAs”) will retain such electronic records. However, this confidence in the TPA’s records can be a trap for the unwary, as mistakes in the transmission of elections from the TPA to the employer’s payroll can easily occur, and the elections for long-standing employees may have been entered manually based on paper election forms that could have long since been misplaced (or destroyed in accordance with a TPA’s record retention policies). Further, if the plan sponsor has changed TPAs, the current TPA’s records for participants prior to the conversion are based on the records of the prior TPA and may no longer be accessible following conversion to the new TPA.  A lack of reliable records can… Continue Reading

Retirement Plan Death Beneficiary Provisions that Reduce Potential Liability

When a retirement plan participant dies without a valid beneficiary designation on file, death benefits will typically be paid pursuant to the plan’s default beneficiary provisions. These provisions should be drafted to avoid placing an undue burden on the plan administrator (which is often the plan sponsor). When the plan document requires the plan administrator to determine a participant’s heirs, the process of administering the death benefit can be costly and time-consuming and may lead to the risk that the plan will have to pay a duplicate benefit. For example, a duplicate payment could result because children from a previous marriage were overlooked, the participant remarried after terminating employment, or competing heirs provide incomplete or misleading information. However, plans can be drafted to provide that the default beneficiary is the participant’s surviving spouse, and if there is no spouse, the participant’s estate. If the estate is not probated, the risk should be shifted from… Continue Reading

Recent IRS Snapshot Regarding Deemed Distributions for Participant Loans Reminds Employers of Risk of Plan Loan Errors

The IRS recently released an Issue Snapshot (the “Snapshot”) focusing on participant loans from retirement plans and when certain compliance errors could trigger deemed distributions with respect to such loans. Specifically, the Snapshot lists the following requirements, which if not satisfied, will cause a participant loan to be treated as a deemed distribution: Enforceable agreement requirement, which generally requires a participant loan to be a legally enforceable agreement (which may include more than one document) and the terms of the agreement demonstrate compliance with the applicable requirements of the Code. Maximum loan amount limit requirement, which generally limits the maximum amount of a participant loan to the amount specified under the Code. The Snapshot also noted the CARES Act allowed modifications to the loan limit for certain loans to “qualified individuals.” Repayment period requirement, which generally requires the repayment period of a loan be limited to five years, unless the loan… Continue Reading

As Plan Administrator, the Employer is Liable – Not the Service Provider (i.e., What Kind of Indemnification Are You Getting?)

The plan administrator of an employee benefit plan (employee welfare or retirement) has the general fiduciary responsibility under ERISA to ensure the operational and documentary compliance of the plan. Under ERISA, the sponsoring employer is the plan administrator unless another person or entity is named in the plan. This generally means the employer retains ultimate responsibility and liability for legal compliance even though the employer may rely heavily on the plan’s third-party service providers. One way to mitigate this liability is to obtain indemnification from a service provider for the service provider’s errors, for which the employer (as plan administrator) would still be legally liable. The default language in third-party service provider contracts often provides indemnification only for the service provider’s “gross negligence”, but not its “ordinary negligence”, thus leaving the employer responsible for correcting (and paying for) errors caused by the service provider that do not amount to “gross negligence” or “intentional… Continue Reading

Reminder: Upcoming Deadline to Provide COBRA Subsidy Expiration Notice

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “ARPA”) provides a 100% COBRA premium subsidy (the “COBRA Subsidy”) to certain COBRA qualified beneficiaries, which we previously reported on here, here, and here. Under the ARPA, the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021. The APRA requires that certain notices be sent to affected qualified beneficiaries regarding the COBRA Subsidy, including a notice of the upcoming expiration of their premium assistance. This expiration notice must be sent no fewer than 15 days and no more than 45 days before an individual’s COBRA Subsidy expires. The DOL has released a model “Notice of Expiration of Period of Premium Assistance” that plans may use to satisfy the notice requirement. Because the COBRA Subsidy is set to expire on September 30, 2021, the deadline to send out the expiration notices is quickly approaching. Employers are reminded to contact their third-party COBRA administrators,… Continue Reading

New COBRA Subsidy Guidance Addresses Outstanding Issues

The IRS recently issued Notice 2021-46 (the “Notice”), which provides new guidance in the form of FAQs regarding the application of the COBRA premium assistance provisions of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (the “COBRA Subsidy”). The Notice supplements the IRS’s prior Notice 2021-31 regarding the COBRA Subsidy and addresses additional matters. Issues addressed in the Notice include, among others, (i) the availability of the COBRA Subsidy in situations where an individual is entitled to notify the plan administrator, but has not yet done so, of his or her eligibility for an extended COBRA coverage period due to a disability determination or the occurrence of a second COBRA qualifying event, (ii) the loss of an individual’s entitlement to the COBRA Subsidy with respect to dental and vision coverage when he or she becomes eligible to enroll in other group health plan coverage or Medicare that does not provide dental… Continue Reading

Keep Mental Health Parity Compliance Documentation at the Top of Your Compliance To-Do List

As discussed in our prior blog posts, available here, here, and here, an employer must maintain documentation demonstrating that its group health plan is compliant with mental health and substance use disorder parity rules. The DOL has made compliance with these rules a high priority, and DOL enforcement efforts have begun. Employers should follow up with their medical, network, prescription drug, and other third-party service providers to define expectations and set deadlines for the production of information that employers need for the required reporting. Given the amount of detail, effort, and coordination that this compliance documentation requires, employers should ensure that a compliant report can be timely provided if there is a DOL inquiry.

DOL Rules that Audio Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations with Plan?ÇÖs Insurer may have to be Disclosed

The DOL recently issued Information Letter 06-14-2021 addressing whether the claims procedure regulations under ERISA require plan fiduciaries to provide, upon request, the audio recording and transcript of a telephone conversation between a claimant and a representative of the plan?ÇÖs insurer relating to an adverse benefit determination. The claims regulations under ERISA provide that a document, record, or other information is relevant to a claim for benefits, and therefore must be provided to a claimant upon request, if it (i) ?Ç£was submitted, considered, or generated in the course of making the benefit determination, without regard to whether such document, record, or other information was relied upon in making the benefit determination?Ç¥ or (ii) ?Ç£demonstrates compliance with the administrative processes and safeguards.?Ç¥ The DOL concluded that a recording or transcript of a conversation between a claimant and a plan?ÇÖs insurer would not be excluded from the ERISA disclosure requirements on the… Continue Reading

Group Health Plan Service Contracts Trigger Compensation Disclosures

Among the new requirements that are, or soon will be, imposed on employer-sponsored group health plans subject to ERISA (?Ç£GHPs?Ç¥) by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (the ?Ç£CAA?Ç¥) are compensation disclosure requirements which apply to GHPs and certain of their third-party service providers. Background ERISA contains prohibitions on certain transactions between an employee benefit plan, including a GHP and a party-in-interest, such as a third-party service provider.?á Section 408(b)(2) of ERISA provides an exemption from the prohibited transaction rules for reasonable contracts entered into by a plan and a service provider for necessary plan-related services (?Ç£Contract?Ç¥), provided that no more than reasonable compensation is paid for such services (the ?Ç£Prohibited Transaction Exemption?Ç¥). The relevant fiduciary of the plan under ERISA (the ?Ç£Fiduciary?Ç¥) is responsible for determining whether compensation to be paid under the Contract is reasonable in order to comply with the Prohibited Transaction Exemption. Disclosure Requirement under the… Continue Reading

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